Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Wire Tap Dancing

So did Lives of Others register with Academy voters last month because of the underlying comparison to the Bush Administration’s wiretapping policy?
I’m guessing it had more to do with superior storytelling, but I haven’t had the chance to see it yet.
Here’s an interesting look at the East German Stasi from the German Financial Times.

Film on Stasi stirs new interest in history
von Hugh Williamson
(Berlin)Millions of people have opened their Stasi files to be shocked by Intimate details of how secret agents recruited hundreds of thousands of informers to spy on innocent citizens.
On Sunday in Hollywood it picked up the Oscar for best foreign language film. Yesterday in the grey, east Berlin suburb of Lichtenberg the Movie The Lives of Others revived emotional memories of how the Stasi, communist East Germany's secret police, ruined the lives of millions.
The prize for the film, that captures the evil skill of one of the communist era's most determined - and feared - spy agencies, was welcomed by visitors to the former Stasi headquarters in this sprawling Berlin district.Christiana Barzik, a middle-aged West German tourist, said the film, about a Stasi agent who in the 1980s bugs the home of two artists and develops an unexpected sympathy for them, was a breakthrough.
"It's good that a German film has finally dealt seriously with such a sensitive issue," she said, standing among exhibits of spying equipment - hidden in watering cans, briefcases and overcoats - in the communist regime's rather threadbare former spy centre that was also a location for the award-winning movie.
"The film really hits home emotionally on how ingenious, and evil, the Stasi were," said Gisle Raasberg, a Norwegian who has seen it twice.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, an easterner, said the "sensitively produced Stasi drama had . . . touched people deeply".
Millions of people have, since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, opened their Stasi files, to be shocked by intimate details of how secret agents recruited hundreds of thousands of informers to spy on innocent citizens.
The film, the first by the west German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, has won extra resonance given recent revelations in Poland over church leaders' ties to the communist secret police, and worries in the US and elsewhere over civil liberty breaches due to tougher anti-terror laws.
Mr von Donnersmarck, 33, said recently that many people in the US who had seen the film had told him of parallels to concerns over increased state-backed eavesdropping in the US as an anti-terror measure.
Wolfgang Thierse, deputy president of Germany's parliament and a respected east German politician, said the film had an international appeal.
"The underlying themes of repression, cowardice, anxiety and alienation are not unique to the
Stasi or East Germany," he said.
He said many West Germans with little interest in unification themes "have also been touched by the film" which, with a budget of only $1.8m ($1.2m), has been seen by 1.7m people in Germany and launched successfully in France and Denmark.
Film satirizes Japan's economic bubble

Los Angeles Times
In Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust, a movie now playing in Japan, a heroine travels back in time to the country's heady days of economic expansion and consumer excess – which ended with a thud, a turnabout that still haunts the Japanese today.
"It was a weird period of history," says Chihiro Kameyama, the film's producer.
Fuji Television Network TOKYO – Japanese audiences can be excused for feeling nostalgia for the 1980s while watching Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust, a movie about those champagne days when a man could drape a Tiffany necklace around the neck of a woman he had just met and friends would tell her to take it because "everyone's got too much money anyway."
Japan's bubble era seems surreal in hindsight: too much cash, too much consumption and zero recognition of the recklessness of those days. It ended in tears, of course. Real estate prices collapsed. Banks failed. And Japan embarked on a long period of economic stagnation.
Only in the past two years have economists declared the lost decade over, pointing to jumps in corporate profits and the vigor of Japanese stock markets. To the makers of Bubble Fiction," the economic recovery signaled that the time had arrived for a satirical look at this national trauma.
They figured that each new bit of happy economic news makes Japanese audiences better equipped to look back at their folly with amusement instead of anguish.
"If we had made this movie five years ago, it would have been a much darker comedy," said Yasuo Baba, the director. "Even last year, when the script was approved, we asked ourselves if it was an appropriate theme. There are many people out there who were burned by the bubble and still have bad feelings about it."
It's still a soft recovery -- incomes remain virtually static -- and the word "bubble" still frequently pops up in conversations here. The experience has been seared onto the consciousness of a generation now in its late 30s, 40s and 50s, much the way the Great Depression's misery dictated a lifetime of cautious spending habits for the millions it touched.
"People were spend-happy in the bubble days," Baba said. "If you were a newly hired salaryman, the first thing you did was buy an Armani suit. But in the last 10 years, Japan has raised a generation that will not spend. It's not an economic issue. It's psychological."
Baba knows the bubble era well, though he said he was not badly burned financially. His career was built on three hit romantic comedies made in the 1980s that captured the social essence of that time. After a bit of a lost decade of his own during which he drew lots of manga but made only one movie, Baba has returned to that period with Bubble Fiction.
The movie was made by Fuji TV, a conglomerate known for entertainment values and a finger on the public mood. For all the movie's cartoonish violence and lack of serious pretensions (the plot involves time travel to 1990 in a washing machine), it does offer a populist view of Japan's current troubles.
The movie opens with a debt collector harassing a woman named Mayumi at a funeral parlor as she grieves for her mother. He helps himself to the money in the condolence tray, an eerie reminder of the notoriously heavy-handed collection methods of Japan's loan companies. Desperate to get out of debt, Mayumi agrees to go back to 1990 on behalf of a small group of bureaucrats. They want her to correct the bad political decision that popped the bubble and will, if left untreated, push 21st century Japan into bankruptcy and a social implosion.
And it's in 1990 we find the villains: foreign bankers and their Japanese collaborators in business and government who are orchestrating a collapse so they can scoop up assets on the cheap. This has strong echoes of the current mood in Japan, where there is much muttering about foreign "vulture" capital firms buying fire-sale assets of buildings, golf courses and the like, and reselling them at a profit. In a reversal of the bubble era, when Japanese firms were picking off American landmarks, these days U.S. hedge funds scour Japan for bargain pearls.
This is the calamity that Bubble Fiction tries to undo with its time-travel trick. In the end, with the evil Japanese bureaucrat and his foreign cronies exposed, and the bubble's bust averted, Mayumi returns to a different Japan of 2007. Prosperity has continued unbroken. Family values are still strong. Japan even has won a soccer World Cup.
"We spent the most money on that last scene," said Chihiro Kameyama, the film's producer. "It is what Japan could have been, a richer, more fun place to be. "But the movie was not made with nostalgia," he added. "It was a weird period of history, and Japanese people know there is nothing to go back to. It was a bubble. And they know it had consequences."

Where's Tsotsi?

Last year Tsotsi won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, a huge win for South African filmmakers. So how did that film not win top prize at FESPACO this year? Hope to hear from folks who've seen both films.

African Film Festival Gives Top Award to Child Soldier Film
By Phuong Tran Dakar
04 March 2007
Africa's largest film festival, the Pan African Film and Television Festival, FESPACO, finished on Saturday in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Nigerian filmmaker Newton Aduaka took the top prize for his film about a child soldier in West Africa. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar with reporting by Zoumana Wonogo in Ouagadougou who spoke with festival winners. Aduaka's film, Ezra,tells the story of a seven-year old boy kidnapped by rebels and forced to fight in a civil war. Though no location is ever specified in the film, the story is based on the war that began in Sierra Leone in the early nineties. According to United Nations, around 10,000 children fought in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. In Ezra the child soldier attacks his village, kills his family, and denies all when called before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Filmmaker Aduaka accepted the top festival prize, Golden Stallion, as well as a check for $20,000, from the president of Burkino Faso, Blaise Compaore. At previous FESPACO festivals, Aduaka won Best First Work for his film Rage and Best Short Film for On the Edge, but this is the first time he has won the top prize. Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo won the Silver Stallion, or second place, for his film Les Saignantes, an erotic story set in the future of two women who try to win politicians' favor with their beauty. Chad's Mahamat-Saleh Haroun won Bronze Stallion for his film Daratt in which a young man tries to find and kill the man who murdered his father. Altogether, more than 80 films competed for the festival's six awards. Rhalib Jawad from Morocco won first prize in the documentary category for his film El Ejido, the Law of Profit, a film about African immigrants working in Spain. For films done outside Africa, a film from Haiti, The President Has AIDS, by Haitian filmmaker Arnold Antonin won the top prize. Daniel Taye Workou from Ethiopia was overwhelmed when his film Menged, which tells the story of a trip to the market by a father and son, won the short film competition. In his acceptance speech, Workou expressed the hope that Africans would have the opportunity to view more films by Africans. "To have a prize in West Africa being from East Africa is a very nice honor because it shows the story of my film is [appeals to all Africans]. I wish Africa can make quality films so we do not have to watch all the American films that come [just] because they are there and available," he said. "We have to have our own films that give the people hope, strength and identity." In the television series and sitcoms, Abdoulaye Dao became the only Burkinabe to take home a prize when he won an award for his series When Elephants Fight. Cyrille Masso from Cameroon won with his fiction video Confidences. Thousands of people connected with the world of African cinema attended the awards ceremony, including many Africans now living outside the continent, as well as a small number of non-African filmmakers. Over the course of the week-long festival more than 200 films from 44 countries were shown. When the festival first opened in 1969, five countries participated. Held every two years, the next festival will be 2009 in Ouagadougou, which will mark the 40th anniversary of Africa's largest film festival.

This Just In: DVD Releases

This 2006 German hit stormed the film festival circuit competing in at Berlinale, Seattle and Toronto. Actress Sandra Hüller won a Silver Bear in Berlin, director Hans-Christian Schmid won a critics prize at FIPRESCI and Hüller won best actress at the Bavarian Film Awards.

The film, set in the 1970s, tells the true story of a sheltered Catholic girl who breaks free to attend college only to have her epilepsy lead to an exorcism.

Al Otro Lado (2004), Latin America
These three stories of the bonds between children and their absent parents are directed by Gusavo Loza. In one story, a Mexican boy disobeys his father and visits a strange lagoon.

El de la Camisa Negra (2006), Mexico
Three brothers return to their hometown seeking revenge following the murder of their parents and face the town's new sherrif. The action flick is directed by Arturo Martinez.

Lagrimas de Cristal (2006), Mexico
This love triangle film, directed by Carlos Valdemar, is about a poor man who falls in love with an older, married woman. The husband loses a great debt and the wife creates a plan to help all three.

Strange Circus (2005), Japan
This fantasy shocker, directed by Sion Sono, is sexually charged and features a suicidal teen who witnesses many shocking sexual situations. Later her tale may simply be the basis for a novel written by a wheelchair-bound author.